Kente cloth is made from thin strips woven (typically by men) on narrow looms. The strips are interlaced to form a fabric which is usually worn wrapped around the shoulders and waist like a toga - the garment is also known as kente. Women wear two shorter lengths to form a skirt and bodice.
Kente has its own mythology - claiming the original cloth was taken from the web of a spider - and related superstitions - such as no work can be started or completed on a Friday and that mistakes require an offering to be made to the loom.
Originally made from white cotton with some indigo patterning, kente cloth evolved when silk arrived with Portuguese traders in the seventeenth century. Fabric samples were pulled apart for the silken thread, which was then woven into the kente cloth. Later, when skeins of silk became available, more sophisticated patters were created - although the extortionate cost of the silk meant they were only available to Akan royalty.
In kente cloth colours are significant:
• Blue means love,
• Green means growth and energy,
• Yellow (gold) means wealth and royalty,
• Red means violence and anger,
• White means goodness or victory,
• Grey means shame, and
• Black means death (or old age).
Even today, when a new design is created , it must first be offered to the royal house. If the king declines to take it can then be sold to the public. Designs worn by Asante royalty may not be worn by others.<Back to Previous Page>